Holly and Kit Come Home

A cross-country rescue story
By Claudia Kawczynska, May 2009, Updated June 2021

Sometimes, what drives us to make on-the-spot decisions, especially emotion-based decisions, is inexplicable. Take ours to adopt two pups from Kentucky, for example. We certainly weren’t looking for an addition to our two-dog household. Lola, our young German Wirehaired Pointer rescue, was progressing nicely in her training but still needed ongoing work, and our 16-year-old Terrier mix Lenny, while in good health, was starting to show and feel his age. Then, of course, there’s the magazine; publishing Bark keeps us pretty busy. But adopt two pups we did. This is how it happened.

The Adventure Begins

The email that started us on this journey arrived in my in-box on December 23, with the subject line: Black Wednesday of Death in Harrodsburg, KY—Please, Help! The message came from “James Painter,” who’s sent me numerous notices throughout the year. (I later learned that his daughter, Dawn, using her father’s email, is the energy behind what seems to be a one-person rescue effort focusing on Southern shelters.) How could I ignore that plea?

When I opened the email, I saw an out-of-focus photo of a pup’s face—a “baby” female Border Collie/Beagle who looked like a much smaller version of our dear departed Nell. Certainly I knew that this or any other pup wouldn’t be another Nell—she, like all dogs, had her own unique spirit and personality that made her irrefutably irreplaceable, and we never considered getting a substitute. But there was something about this pup’s face that struck my heart. I showed the photo and the plaintive appeal for quick action to Cameron, and we both knew that this little Kentucky girl would be ours.

I called the Mercer County Humane Society in Harrodsburg and learned from a very helpful shelter worker that the youngster wasn’t with them; he gave me the number for their rescue coordinator, Geri Sipe, and I phoned her the next day. By this time, it was Christmas Eve. Geri and I discussed my interest in possibly adopting Casey (as the puppy was called), and Geri said she would try to find out more about her. Turns out that not much more was known; even the pup’s breed mix was not all that clear. The mother was mostly Border Collie, but at 25 pounds, she was a small one—there was possibly some Terrier (Fox Terrier or JRT) in her mix—and the sire was probably a Beagle. Casey was being fostered by a very pregnant young woman who, among other things, had her hands full rescuing cats. Beyond that, solid facts were hard to pin down. But we had made the commitment, both to ourselves and to the humane society, that we would adopt her regardless of what we found out.

Even as I became more deeply involved in the process, I knew that this was far from an ideal—or even a “normal”—way to adopt a dog: We had little information about size or parentage, almost nothing about temperament and health, and no firsthand assessment at all. Offsetting this realization was my fortunate situation as the editor of Bark: I had access to compassionate experts whose assistance could be tapped into if the need arose. Bolstered by that, I felt I could handle whatever challenges the pup presented.


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And, truth be told, I thought of sweet Nell, and how much she would have liked this “mini Nellie” pup! Shortly thereafter, Geri gave me the news that the five-and-a-half-month-old Casey was only six pounds and had a littermate sister who was a whopping seven pounds. They were so small—couldn’t I somehow bring them both to California? Please? How could I possibly refuse?

It Took a Village
Agreeing was easy. Getting them from Kentucky to California was another story. Though the shelter, like many others in the area, has active transport programs that take dogs north by the van-load to improve their adoption opportunities, it didn’t have direct experience in sending dogs west.

Geri is nothing if not resourceful, however. She suggested that I post on rescue message boards asking for truck drivers or pilots who could help ferry the girls, and told me about groups like Animal Rescue Flights and Pilots and Paws, fabulous organizations that fly adoptees to destinations around the country. I was amazed to learn about the many individuals and groups involved with transporting rescue dogs.

The problem was coordination—it takes a lot of it to get a dog across the country. Not only was our schedule tight, I was reluctant to use resources that others might need. Then I learned about the severe winter storm that was about to hit that area.

One of the things I had discovered was that the puppies were being housed outdoors, and storm or no storm, there was no chance they would be brought inside. And it was 15 degrees! Knowing that we had to act fast, I asked Geri to ask the fosterer to take the pups to a vet to be boarded, and told her that I would be responsible for the costs involved. There, they would not only be warm, but their health could also be evaluated and any issues addressed.

The girls spent 10 days at the Commonwealth Animal Hospital in Harrodsburg, where they were vaccinated, de-fleaed, wormed and spayed, but most importantly, kept safe, well-fed and warm thanks to the excellent care of Dr. Paul Bosse and his conscientious staff, who also took the first good photos of my girls.

In the meantime, I started making my own travel arrangements—I was going to bring the girls back myself. It was vital that the little dogs fly nonstop, and with January temperatures plunging, Atlanta seemed to be the best bet. After a lot of online research and calling around, I settled on Delta. Not only did the airline have nonstop flights between Atlanta and San Francisco, my dear friends Judy and Poul Jacobsen live in Atlanta and were more than willing to help out; they even offered to drive the seven hours north to Kentucky if need be. So that was one hurdle jumped.

A second hurdle was overcome when Geri put me in touch with her delightful pal Jeannie Oldham, an administrator at a local college, who has made numerous transporter trips as a volunteer with the humane society. In a flurry of emails, she and I made arrangements for her to drive the pups to Tennessee in her brand-new Subaru Outback, and I made a new friend. We settled on Saturday, January 24, with Knoxville as our rendezvous point; exactly where was another matter.

As luck would have it, Knoxville resident Gretchen Crawley had just submitted a winning photo of her dog Roxy to our smiling dog contest, so when I emailed her the good news about Roxy, I also asked if she had any ideas for a good meet-up place. She suggested I get in touch with Tim Adams, director of Knoxville’s Young-Williams Animal Center (the city and county’s animal care and control facility).

That turned out to be excellent advice. Not only was Tim more than willing to allow us to use the shelter, but he graciously offered to give me a tour of the new state-of-the-art facility, even though that Saturday would be a big and busy day for them as well. They were hosting an adoption fair sponsored by Hills and were expecting many potential adopters (indeed, the lines were forming as we drove up).

While we waited for Jeannie to arrive, Tim gave me the grand tour, and I quickly understood the magnitude of the challenges that he and his staff are confronted with in running a county shelter. It was both heartbreaking to see so many adoptable animals who would most likely not find a home even on that special day, and inspiring to see so many wonderful people devoted to helping them.

I was shown the operating room and top-of-the-line spay/neuter vans where vets were busy neutering animals. This was my first “behind the scenes” experience at a shelter, and it affected me deeply. I came away with heightened respect, bordering on awe, for shelter workers everywhere. How they can do it day in and day out, I don’t know. If you’re looking for everyday heroes, you’ll find them working in shelters across the country!

After the tour, it wasn’t long before Jeannie and her friend Lynne Cornish, who served as the “puppy love” copilot, pulled into the parking lot with the pups, whom we had renamed Holly and Kit, sitting quietly in a crate in the back of the car. No doubt stunned by the sudden turn of events in their young lives, they hadn’t made a peep (or even peed) during their first three-hour car ride. More travel awaited them—it would be another three hours before we got back to Atlanta to Judy and Poul’s house, and the next morning, it would be off to the airport for a very long flight to their new home.

Coming Home
I had never flown with animals before and felt a certain amount of trepidation. The trip home to California went smoothly enough, however. The Delta ground security and check-in crew were great; everyone gawked at the girls as we whizzed by with the sign on top of the crate alerting all to the very precious cargo within.

Because their combined weight was less than 20 pounds, they were able to travel in the same large crate in the pressurized cargo area. Thinking it was more likely to be on time, I had booked the first flight out, but a 45-minute delay almost sent me into a tizzy. A kind Delta representative paged me to assure me that all was well and that the pups were already loaded onto the plane (not out in the cold on the tarmac).

Once on board myself, I received further assurances and updates from the flight crew. When we were about to land, a flight attendant moved me up to first class, and as we taxied to the gate, she allowed me to go to the front of the plane. I was the first person out of the chute and performed what must have looked like a mad-woman sprint through the terminal to the arrival area.

Cameron was there to meet me, sporting a little “Puppies” sign like those of black-coated limo drivers. When we got to the baggage claim area, we were greatly relieved to see that the pups had been safely disembarked and were being watched over by a dog-loving Delta representative.

Holly and Kit seemed a little bleary-eyed but none the worse for their journey, which all told was more than eight hours long. I had been warned by friends with more experience in traveling with dogs that mishaps were likely during long trips, so I was prepared to clean them up, but the girls and their crate were sparkling clean.

Off we headed for another car ride. At the end of this one was their new home, complete with a welcoming committee of a big sister who was eager to introduce them to their new life and a grumpy old guy who wasn’t sure he needed new siblings.
Stayed tuned for new chapters in this ongoing story. Here’s a quick one. It didn’t take long to realize that Holly and Kit were very timid and terribly undersocialized. We have been told by behaviorists with whom we’ve consulted, including Patricia McConnell, that their socialization process will probably take a long time. We hope that sharing what we learn can be of value to others—but more importantly, that the girls make the transition from shy pups to well-adjusted, confident dogs.